If you’re a friend or family member trying to provide comfort to a grieving heart, the last thing you want to do is bring them more pain. So when you’re told, “Your words and actions are hurtful. You don’t understand,” it may be easy to feel unappreciated or confused. I was just trying to help, you think.
The Story of Peanuts and Grief
After a long walk, Maria said to her friend Samantha, “Hey, I’m kind of hungry.”
Samantha, recalling she had food in her backpack, offered some to Maria. “Hey, here’s some peanuts. I know it’s not much, but it’s all I have.”
“Oh, I appreciate it, but I’m afraid I’m allergic,” said Maria.
“But, I’m trying to be helpful. Just eat the peanuts,” Samantha said a bit bothered with her friend.
“It’s kind of you, but the peanuts you’re giving me will make my stomach hurt more,” Maria explained.
Frustrated, Samantha decided to walk away and left Maria. Why won’t she just eat the damn peanuts. She’s hungry. It’s food. I was trying to help, she thought.
Stop Giving Peanuts to the Grieving
This may seem like an odd and extreme story. Most people would naturally think, “Well, if Maria is allergic, it’s not that she doesn’t appreciate the peanuts. It’s that accepting them will do more harm than good. If I were Samantha, I’d say, ‘Sorry, friend’ and ask her what she could eat or offer a different snack.”
Unfortunately, with grief, many people’s good intentions are peanuts. The motives are 100% beautiful, but can cause more harm than good. The problem I’ve noticed with grief is that some, like Samantha, get upset that the bereaved person doesn’t “just eat the damn peanuts” and continue to offer them until someone eventually walks away.
Below is a list of common sayings, or peanuts, given to those who are hurting, along with the reasons they cause more pain.
What Not to Say to Someone Who’s Grieving
1. “They’re in a better place.”
Reason: Sure, maybe they are, but the one grieving isn’t. If the person who passed wasn’t sick — people die in freak accidents, car accidents, homicides, acts of nature — then “they’re not suffering anymore” doesn’t apply. It feels unhelpful. And, if they were suffering, that person being better doesn’t make the bereaved feel better in the short-term.
2. “It could be worse.”
Reason: Could it? I guess if heaven strikes us both dead then it could be. Seriously, how could losing someone you love and never seeing them again be worse than anything else? Please, don’t say this.
3. “You’ll find love again.” Or “You can have another baby.”
Reason: One life does not cancel out or make up for another. We can’t get another you, and we can’t get a replica of our loved one who passed. Maybe we will find love again; maybe we won’t. Maybe we will have another child. But we’ll always grieve the person we won’t have another of — forever.
4. “You have to move forward.”
Reason: Naturally, life stops for the dead and continues for the living. However, those grieving need time to process life. Psychology will inform you that the brain gets foggy during grief, especially if it was sudden, unexpected, or traumatizing. Please understand that before someone can move forward in a positive direction, he or she first has to figure out where life has left them.
5. “You’re so strong.”
Lastly, there isn’t any joy without sorrow. Your family member or friend may be strong, but right now I need you to understand that weak is what their heart feels. Strength does not seem near — and that’s OK. This person has undergone a tremendous loss. Grief is a natural part of life. It’s OK for them not be so strong. Right now is the time to mourn and experience the emotions that come with losing someone they loved dearly.